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UK cervical cancer screening rates fall to 21-year low

Published on 28/11/18 at 12:34pm

A report by NHS Digital has revealed that cervical cancer screening coverage has fallen to 71.4%, down from 72% in 2017, marking the fourth year of decline in the figures and the lowest point in 21 years.

The figures show that 3.18 million of the total 4.46 million women invited for a screening in the year 2017-2018 were tested, meaning more than a quarter ignored the invitation.

The report also revealed that every local authority in the country is falling short of the 80% coverage target; London is the worst area of all with a coverage rate of 64.7% – down from 65.7% last year – and Kensington and Chelsea is the lowest performing borough within the city, with a rate of just 51.6%.

Delving deeper into the figures, both age groups 25-29 and 60-64 saw declines, from 62.1% to 61.1% and 69.7% to 68.8% respectively. Only 58.6% of those tested received their results within two weeks, and only five local authorities saw their screening rates increase: Hillingdon, Stockport, Sefton, Blackburn with Darwen and Cumbria.

“Today’s statistics are highly frustrating and, coupled with rising cervical cancer diagnoses, an enormous worry. Yet it is not a surprise to see that attendance continues to fall as women in England are frankly being let down,” remarked Robert Music, Chief Executive at Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust.At a time when we should be making screening easier to attend it is getting harder and harder to access. Many women struggle to get screening appointments at their GP, access through sexual health is declining and there is limited provision for those requiring extra support including survivors of sexual violence or those with a learning disability.

“We have been too slow to innovate and much needed investment is not happening. We have a highly effective programme, yet it is being delivered on an IT system which is ready to collapse,” he continued. “We are being left behind by countries such as Australia where advancements including HPV self-sampling are now part of the programme and where elimination of cervical cancer is truly on the horizon.

“We cannot sit back and let cervical screening coverage continue to plummet or diagnoses of this often preventable cancer will rise and more mothers, daughters, sisters and friends will be lost.”

Matt Fellows

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